Tuesday, June 13, 2006

standards of behavior

In a comment at Xrlq, nk suggests this rewriting of Ann Coulter's statement about the Jersey Widows:
This broad, Ann Coulter, is a millionairess, lionized on TV and in articles and blog discussions about her, revelling in her status as a celebrity and stalked by wingnuts looking for her autograph. I have never seen anyone enjoying the deaths of the 9/11 victims and the grief of their families so much.
Patterico thinks this quote is so revealing that he posted it to his own blog and started a huge discussion about it. I responded
nk, your translation would annoy me, but not because it crossed some tenuous line of good taste, rather because it would be grossly unfair. If you think that Coulter’s statement was grossly unfair to the Jersey Widows (I don’t), then you would be properly annoyed at it.

To me, Ted Rall isn’t a slimebag just because he says mean things. He’s a slimebag because the mean things he says reveal a slimebag attitude. He despises what is good and defends what is evil. How he says it is only a distraction.

By contrast, Ann Coulter defends what is good and despises what is evil. And if she is too harsh in her criticism of what is evil, well, at least she’s funny –another difference between her and Rall.
and Patterico responded to me in a way that suggests he missed my point:
In other words, she is an asshole — but she’s *our* asshole.
Patterico misses my point because I haven't, up to now, clearly expressed that I reject his assumption that there is some relevant standard of civilized discourse that Coulter has violated. He must be making such an assumption, otherwise his intemperate words about Coulter cannot be justified.

My question to Patterico and the other critics of Ann Coulter is: what is this standard? Every night, millions of people tune into the Tonight Show and the Letterman show to watch comedians say offensive things about anyone who has been in the news lately. On these and other comedy shows, I've seen mockery made of the dead, of the maimed, and of the homosexually raped. South Park has made millions from doing and saying things more offensive than anything Coulter has ever said.

Well maybe entertainers are a special case? Obviously not; Coulter's words do not stand out at all in the realms of political discussion. Ted Rall is a nationally syndicated cartoonist. Air America is on the radio spewing bile every day. Some pretty rotten things have been said on Politically Incorrect. And it's not only on the left. Michael Savage has made a career out of saying hateful things, and Rush Limbaugh makes fun of people in pretty brutal ways sometimes. And then there are the political blogs. Nothing Coulter has said is particularly out of the norm.

And don't forget the Darwin Awards. This is a list of posthumous awards given to people who remove themselves from the gene pool through fatal acts of stupidity --entertainment from humorous death. For example:
The following mind-boggling attempt at a crime spree appeared to be the robber's first, due to his lack of a previous record of violence, and his terminally stupid choices:
1. His target was H&J Leather & Firearms. A gun shop.
2. The shop was full of customers - firearms customers.
3. To enter the shop, the robber had to step around a marked police patrol car parked at the front door.
4. A uniformed officer was standing at the counter, having coffee before work.
Upon seeing the officer, the would-be robber announced a holdup, and fired a few wild shots. The officer and a clerk promptly returned fire, covered by several customers who also drew their guns, thereby removing the confused criminal from the gene pool.
No one else was hurt.
What do you think the odds are that this man has family members who are devastated at having people laugh at his death? And how many of the people who are attacking Coulter have laughed at this or stories like it?

My point isn't that all of this is OK, but just that there is no cultural standard that Coulter has violated. There just isn't. I don't mean to imply that no one can ever exceed the bounds of good taste in what they say, I'm just pointing out that what she said was fairly mild, given cultural norms, even by the most uncharitable reading (the one that Patterico insists on).

I'll bet South Park could do an episode on the Jersey Widows where one of the husbands shows up --he wasn't actually in the twin towers that day-- and the Widows get together to kill him and hide the body, and Patterico wouldn't say a thing, or he'd say how funny it was. It probably would be funny.

No, I think the conservatives who are so upset about this aren't really upset because Coulter has violated some standard of proper behavior. What they are doing is trying to behave towards her like they behave towards Michael Moore and Ted Rall and the other slimebags of the left. The urge to objectivity is admirable but they are doing it in the wrong direction. There is nothing objective about standards of behavior. Social norms are determined by the subjective choice of groups of people. By contrast, good and evil are objective (or at least that's what conservatives believe) and that's where you need to look for your objective criticism of leftist thugs.

Ted Rall isn't a slimebag just because he drew a cartoon that mocked someone's death. If Rall had drawn a cartoon about the Darwin Award above, would anyone have cared? Imagine that he drew a cartoon about some would-be terrorist, an actual man who got himself killed by being overly aggressive and stupid. That would be OK, wouldn't it? If there is any cultural norm here, it is that mocking violent people who get themselves killed through stupidity is OK. And Rall didn't violate that cultural norm because that's exactly what he thinks of Pat Tillman.

The reason Rall is a slimebag isn't because of what he drew, but because of what he thinks of Pat Tillman. It's not because he mocked someone that he thought should be mocked; it's because of who he thought should be mocked. Pat Tillman was a professional football player who gave up a very good life to join the Army after 9/11. He wanted to be a Ranger --a very dangerous job-- because he wanted to use his physical skills to defend his country. Tillman was killed by friendly fire, in action against the enemy in Afghanistan. Pat Tillman was a hero, and Ted Rall is a slimebag because he doesn't understand that Pat Tillman was a hero.

By contrast, Ann Coulter said some unkind things about a group of women who have used their husband's death as a way to get media attention, then used the soapbox to hinder this country's defense and aid the enemy, and further exploited their husband's death to immunize themselves from criticism for the slimebag things they have done. By shining a spotlight on the actions of these women, Coulter has done a good deed.

So no, Patterico, I don't just mean that Coulter is *our* asshole. I mean that she is objectively a good guy and Rall is objectively a slimebag. It isn't how they say it, it's what they say.

Monday, June 12, 2006

standing up to aggressors

I was attacked today on my way to the gym. It was so unexpected to have something like that happen in broad daylight. In fact I didn't even understand what was happening at first. A passing car muffled the sound of my attacker approaching fast from the rear. Then BAM, she hit me from behind. Well, maybe not so much a BAM as a FLUTTER. The vicious bird sort of bumped my arm and fluttered past. It was bigger than a sparrow but smaller than a crow. I don't know what it was exactly, but it looked a bit crow-like. She was slowed enough by the impact that I'm sure if I hadn't been so surprised I could have reached out and caught her as she flew past.

Like I said, I didn't realize immediately that the mean little bird was attacking me. I thought maybe she had been startled and trying to escape the car that had just passed and that she bumped me by accident. After all, she wasn't exactly in my weight class and unless she was suicidal, picking a fight with me seemed like unusually poor decision-making. But I walked on and she did it again --another vicious, completely unprovoked attack from the rear. Have birds no honor?

I've seen this behavior before: birds attacking potential predators that approach too close to their nests. Once I saw a tiny little bird going after a cat. The cat was just walking along minding its own business when this bird swooped out of nowhere to buzz past it's widdle puddy head as fast as a thrown rock. The cat was startled and crouched down, but the bird was already gone. The cat resumed it's dignified pace for a moment, and then the bird was back. SWOOP. It didn't actually hit the cat but the cat was obviously rattled by this mysterious guided rock that someone kept throwing at it. With a bit less aplomb, the cat tried to resume it's dignified air, but a third swoop sent it running off like a, well, like a scaredy cat --funny as all get out.

Another time I saw a big bird, a crow, I think, going after a dog. The dog was medium-sized, part Black Lab from her look. Her name was Shadow. She was up on a trampoline to see over the fence and bark and the miscreants on the other side (to a dog, anyone on the other side of a fence is a miscreant). This crow dive-bombed Shadow, but Shadow didn't even notice it the first time; she just kept barking in excitement. The crow dive bombed her again, and this time Shadow acknowledged it with a flick of an ear and a sort of impatient glance, but didn't let it distract her from the important job of keeping an eye on those miscreants. The crow must have been frustrated, but it never did get a decent response from Shadow.

So the question before me, as I faced this dangerous avian hostile was, am I a cowardly cat or a miscreant-hunting dog? I'm a DOG by golly. So I turned around and walked back along where she had attacked me before, trying to provoke her into another attack. No dice, the little chicken (I don't think she wasn't literally a chicken --too small and too agile in the air) just sat up on a nearby roof and looked at me sideways as if to say, "What me? I didn't dive bomb anyone today!"

So I went on to the gym, did my time and went back by the same path. This time, the bird didn't try anything. She knew she'd met her match.


I'll be hosting the next Storyblogging Carnival. This is your big chance to get a link from Doc Rampage himself. This is a very exclusive honor because of my strict rules about linking. For example, I never link to anyone who doesn't have something on the internet or to a post without a URL. Also, I never link to a post that I haven't read, or at least heard about somewhere.

So take advantage of this big opportunity! Scan through all your old blog posts looking for anything story-like. Or, if you have a story languishing on a hard drive gathering dust that you know you aren't going to publish, why not post it on your blog and send me a link? If it's too big for a blog post, just break it up into chunks at the cliff-hangers like I did for Ink Magic --a 20,000-word short story in thirteen parts.

Please send your entry by Saturday (the Carnival is next Monday) to docrampage@gmail.com. Include
*story title
*story URL
*blog name
*blog URL
*author name
*word count
*rating (as in G, PG, R, etc.)
*a short blurb describing the story
Hope to see you there.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

the Jersey Widows

If you haven't been trapped in the cellar for the last week, you probably have heard about Ann Coulter's rough words about the Jersey Widows, four women who lost their husbands on 9/11:
These self-obsessed women seem genuinely unaware that 9-11 was an attack on our nation and acted like as if the terrorist attack only happened to them. They believe the entire country was required to marinate in their exquisite personal agony. Apparently, denouncing Bush was part of the closure process....

These broads are millionaires, lionized on TV and in articles about them, reveling in their status as celebrities and stalked by griefparazzies. I have never seen people enjoying their husband’s death so much.
Naturally, leftists in the media and blogosphere are reacting as if Coulter had sicced a pack of rabid pit bulls on the defenseless women and stood laughing while they were ripped limb from limb. Unfortunately, many on the right are piling on as they often do when they smell the chance to demonstrate non-partisan principles.

The impulse is laudable. Fair-minded people feel a responsibility to be impartial in their criticisms; if they criticize Michael Moore for being a big meanie, then when Ann Coulter is mean, they have to criticize her too. But admirable as their motivations are, they are playing into the hands of the leftist grief machine as Big Lizards explains so carefully and thoroughly (link from xrlq). He writes:
Coulter argues — and I completely agree — that by using their grief as a club to batter their opponents into silence, they have willfully and irrevocably forfeited the right ever again to use it as a shield.
If this sentiment isn't obvious to you after reading his post, then I suggest that you are working from sentimentality rather than from moral principle.

The only remaining defense of the attack on Coulter, as I see it, is from commenter Patterico (who on his own blog called Coulter "the Ted Rall of the right" over this incident). Patterico writes
None of this justifies the line about enjoying their husbands' deaths.

That's a cheap shot, pure and simple.
He is right in his implication that even if the Jersey Widows have no legitimate claim to special treatment, they are still entitled to basic decency. Where I think he is wrong is in his judgment that the comment about enjoying their husbands death crossed the line of basic decency. I know this is a tough claim to defend, but please bear with me as I make the effort.

First of all note that "she is enjoying her husband's death" is not the same as "she is glad her husband died". I can enjoy eating a sandwich that fell on the floor without being glad that it fell on the floor, and someone can enjoy the perks of having their husband dead without being glad that he is dead.

Second, people often do enjoy the perks of grief. Some people enjoy it a great deal. Women have deliberately harmed and even killed their own children because they enjoy the perks and attention of grieving. In fact, this practice is common enough to have a name: Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy.

Third, it isn't that outrageous to look at a woman's behavior after her husband's death and conclude that she is enjoying herself. Imagine a woman who starts out poor and marries a rich older man for his money but the man turns out to be a miser and never lets her spend money. When her husband dies, she starts spending money wildly on shoes, clothes, and exotic vacations. She takes a young good-looking lover and is seen with him all over town gushing over him. Wouldn't it be fair to say that this woman is enjoying her husbands death? It might not be polite to say it, but it would be a reasonable conclusion to draw from the evidence, would it not?

The case for the Jersey Widows is even stronger than it is for the gold digger. The Widows became rich and famous, not merely because their husband's death released them, but by directly exploiting the circumstances of their husband's death. They used their husband's death to get attention, to get invited to all the right parties, and to get fawned over on TV.

Any unbiased observer would have to agree that the Jersey Widows do seem to be enjoying their husband's death, but that doesn't justify saying so. There are codes of proper conduct, and just because something is true, that doesn't justify saying it. I've written before about how cruel it is to call famous women ugly, for example, even if they are ugly. Just because it is true, that is no excuse to say it. And certainly it is wrong to say it if your purpose is to deliberately hurt them. That's what the left was doing in their terrible remarks about Linda Trip and Katherine Harris. If Coulter were doing something comparable to that, she should be taken to task for it.

But that is not what Coulter is doing. Coulter isn't out to personally hurt or attack the Jersey Widows; she has a point that she is trying to make --a point that she thinks is vitally important (and I agree with her). The Democrats exploit people like the Jersey Widows to score unanswerable political points. They are, at the same time exploiting the basic decency of Republicans to keep the Republicans silent --no one wants to be mean to a grieving widow. Coulter wants people to understand what the Democrats are doing, and she wants us to understand how heinous this strategy really is. How better to express that than to point out one of the awful consequences, that these four Widows have been led into exploiting and enjoying the fruits of the deaths of their own husbands?

That is a pretty awful thing, but it is the thing itself that is awful, not the act of pointing it out.

UPDATE: John Hawkins at Right Wing News also defends Coulter. I wonder if that's how he got the interview with her? Of course I defended her and she didn't give me an interview...